Chicken Fajitas

Yay, chicken fajitas! So easy to make, and so quick. A little bit of back story. The word “fajita” means “little belt” from “faja” for strip or belt, and the diminutive “ita”. It describes a skirt steak, and fajitas were traditionally made with grilled skirt steak, though now they can be made with chicken, shrimp, you name it. The method is to quickly sear the meat on a griddle or grill, slice and serve with quickly seared peppers and onions and flour tortillas.

Now with a skirt steak it makes a lot of sense to quickly sear the meat and cut it against the grain to serve. You want the steak to be rare in the middle. But with chicken? Not so much. Rare not good with chicken. A way to get around this is to either cut the chicken in strips to begin with or to start with thinner pieces of chicken. We prefer to start with a thinner piece of chicken, that way it’s less likely to dry out. Rather than thinning the meat with a meat pounder, we slice the chicken breasts horizontally. The cutlets are then marinated in a spicy marinade with chili powder, cilantro, and jalapeño, seared on a hot cast iron pan (you could also easily use a hot grill), and after resting a few minutes, sliced against the grain. The peppers and onions are cooked in the same pan while the meat is resting.

Chicken Fajitas Recipe

  • Prep time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • Salt
  • 2 Tbsp canola, safflower, peanut or grapeseed oil (a high smoke point oil)
  • 1 large onion, sliced lengthwise (root to tip) into 1/4-inch strips
  • 3 bell peppers of various colors, sliced into 1/4-inch strips

Marinade

  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Extras

  • 8-12 flour tortillas
  • Salsa
  • Sliced avocado
  • Sour cream
  • Thinly sliced iceberg lettuce dressed lightly with salt and cider vinegar

Method

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1 Chicken breasts come in different sizes. If you have chicken breasts that are around a half pound each or more, you will want to slice them in half horizontally, so that the center thickness is around 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch thick. (We do not recommend pounding the chicken breasts, doing so will not result in the right texture/consistency for fajitas.)

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2 Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a glass or plastic container. Add the chicken, mix well, cover and let marinate at room temperature for 1 hour. (You can marinate them in the refrigerator for up to 8 hours, but remove them an hour before cooking so that they can come closer to room temp.)

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3 Remove the chicken from the marinade. Wipe off most of the marinade and sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt.

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4 Heat a large cast iron frying pan on high heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Add a tablespoon of canola oil (or other high smoke point oil) to the pan. As soon as the oil begins to smoke, lay the chicken breast pieces in the pan. Depending on the size of the pan, and if you have had to cut the chicken breasts, you may have to work in batches. Let the chicken cook undisturbed for 2-3 minutes, until you have a good sear. Once seared well on one side, turn the pieces over and cook for another 2-3 minutes until well seared on the second side.

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5 Once seared on the second side, remove to a cutting board and cover with aluminum foil to rest for 5 minutes. Here's a tip. Stack the seared chicken breasts and then cover them in foil. Together they will retain heat better as you cook the peppers and onions. If you want to test for doneness, cut into one piece with the tip of a sharp knife. It should be just done, if not, you can put it back in the hot pan for a minute or two.

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6 While the chicken is resting, cook the onions and peppers. Add another tablespoon of oil to the frying pan. Heat on high. As soon as the oil is hot, add the onions and peppers to the pan. Use a metal spatula to scrape up some of the browned bits from the chicken and stir to coat the onions and peppers with the oil and brown bits. Spread the onions and peppers in an even layer in the pan. Let them cook undisturbed for 2 minutes. You want them to sear with some blackening. Stir the vegetables and continue to cook for another 2 minutes.

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7 Slice the chicken against the grain into strips. Serve at once with the peppers and onions, some warm tortillas, and sides of shredded cheese, salsa, guacamole, and/or thinly sliced iceberg lettuce dressed with vinegar and salt.

Links:

Chicken Fajitas - from Homesick Texan
Chipotle Chicken Fajitas with Creamy Black Beans - from The Kitchn
Tequila Lime Chicken Fajitas - from Andrea Meyers

Chicken Fajitas on Simply Recipes

53 Comments

  1. Aria

    LOVE fajitas….despise peppers. This has always been an issue. Any suggestion as to some good veggies that could be included in place of the peppers?

    I would just skip them. I love the fajitas just with the onions. ~Elise

  2. Nancy Long

    I make fajitas and tacos fairly often and will def try your marinade the next time. Always have to make hubby some guacamole to go along with.

  3. Diana Hedin

    I just wanted to let you know that “faja”means girdle, corset or sash (wrapped around waist). (Small) strip refers to property or to a “large” belt.

    Yes, and this girdle is the flank cut of beef, based on its location on the steer, which is why the fajitas are so named. ~Elise

  4. FLPat

    I have a couple of those serving plates. They are made by Lodge Cast Iron and guess what? We use them to keep fajita meat and veg warm when we’re eating. So far that’s been their only use.

  5. Chris

    You have a habit of posting recipes that are somehow already on my mind. I literally just clicked over from the wikipedia page on fajitas (I made steak tacos last night and was wondering what the difference was) thinking you have probably have a great recipe for them, and you do. On the front page. I salute your prescience as well as your culinary excellence.

  6. Phil

    Elise – You might not want to publish this – My daughter-in-law told me she nearly died when she heard an elderly woman at a nearby table in a restaurant order, “chicken vagin*s.” Now, whenever I hear the word “fajita,” that’s what immediately comes to mind.
    Phil

    That’s hilarious! ~Elise

  7. Gayle

    I love fajitas too, I’m a vegetarian, so I use
    tofu chicken or beef strips and all the onions
    & peppers I want. I will try your marinade the
    next time.

  8. David Ross

    The recipe looks excellent, and I plan to try it out. I only have one quibble, with the explanation of the term _fajitas_. As your article rightly notes, the term _fajitas_ refers to a specific cut of beef. The regrettable proliferation (in the US only) of names like “chicken fajitas” or even “shrimp fajitas” misrepresents this delicious Mexican food. It’s a little like referring to chicken or shrimp pork chops.

  9. Tim

    The vinegar was a huge blunder! Thought it was strange to use it but I figured, what the heck…..something new. I would recommend leaving it off and go traditional fajitas

    There is no vinegar in the marinade for the chicken. I do recommend that you lightly dress the thinly sliced iceberg lettuce that may accompany fajitas with vinegar and salt. ~Elise

  10. godwinkr

    I sometimes do fajitas with all of the extra veggies I may have accumulated in the fridge–spiced zucchini & summer squash are some of my wonderful regulars with the onions (I’ll use big sweet onions when they are in season), and I bet one could also do sliced mushrooms, sweet potato, julienned carrots, broccoli, or really anything. Just adjust the timings for the different hardnesses of the veggies (or blanch beforehand).

  11. Lisa_S

    Throw away all of those containers of “fajita seasoning” because they all suck. THIS is the recipe you want for home made fajitas without the restaurant price! I can’t wait to do skirt steak and shrimps next time.

  12. Kate

    Aria, instead of peppers, give summer squash and/or large tomatoes a shot. You can still achieve a nice char on the squash, and the tomatoes introduce a nice bit of acidity, similar to the peppers you dislike.

  13. Tamara

    I wish I would’ve saw this recipe before. I just gave a go at making fajitas this past weekend and it does not look like your pictures:). I’ll definitely try your recipe next.

  14. lesterk

    I made these on Tuesday. Fantastic. I brought leftovers to lunch today, even better. The chicken is moist. The veggies are so flavorful. After we finished eating, while the pan was still hot, I had to cut up a whole extra onion to cook in the cast iron skillet, because the onions were so good. I was kind of afraid of using the skillet but it was easy and added an amazing amount of extra flavor.

  15. Damon Dickson

    What a great dinner this was for our picnic get together we had at our park in Boise

    Great flavor from the marinade

  16. Maggie C.

    Omg! Just made this for tonight’s dinner and it was great. Served it on a bed of lettuce with pico de gallo to keep the calories low. Elise, your recipes are awesome! Keep em coming.

    So glad you liked them! ~Elise

  17. Jessi

    I made this tonight and it was a big hit! I only had a green bell pepper and half a yellow bell pepper so I sliced a few mushrooms and added those as well. YUM! This is a keeper recipe. My 2 year old loved it too! (I left out the jalapeno so it wasn’t spicy)

    I’ve never made fajitas before but we always order them when we go out for Mexican. Now we can have it at home! (and its so much healthier!!

    Thanks for the recipe!

  18. Mark L.

    Aria, if your issue is with bell peppers (I dislike them as well) you can sub with poblano chiles. That’s what I do for any recipe calling for bell peppers. Char them first to remove the skin.

    Great idea! You could also use anaheim chiles. ~Elise

  19. Ashley

    This is just fabulous….better than authentic Mexican recipes !!

    One question though….I like to prep dinner during my daughters naps and just wondering if I can prep the marinade ahead of time? I wasn’t sure about refrigerating the marinade only. I never refrigerate oil, but wasn’t sure if I need to refrigerate the marinade because of the lime & cilantro ?

    Thanks for making food worth eating !!!

    Hi Ashley, you mean do you need to refrigerate the marinade? Not if we are only talking a few hours. ~Elise

  20. Jen

    I tried these fajitas tonight and everybody loved them! Very easy to make and I prepared everything on the grill outside. The chicken had so much flavor. This is my new favorite marinade for chicken. This marinade is great for serving grilled chicken even without the fajitas. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

  21. Hope J.

    I tried this a few days ago and it was just amazing! I shared some with my daughter, who heated it at work, and the staff all had to taste it. I am now making it again – for my granddaughters and myself. Thank you so much – the marinade is wonderful – and the chicken turns out so moist and tender. Awesome!!!

  22. Ravi

    Great recipe! To Aria, who hates peppers, try zucchini and yellow squash cut in long strips, about same size as french fries. They are great when grilled or pan seared!

  23. fabiola

    I absolutely love the dish at the end of the post,and the photo for that matter too! Where did you get it? It makes me want the fajitas so bad! I love making them when time is a factor, and they are healthy too. Thanks for the reminder.

    The fajita serving plate? Oddly I found it at World Market. ~Elise

  24. chi

    I made this yesterday but experimented with a romaine lettuce wrap for myself. It’s was so good, my friend who is a picky eater, literally scraped the plate. A definite winner!

  25. Kathy

    I’m going to make these for our annual softball party but I want to play ball! Can I grill the meat ahead of time and let it sit a few hours? Or is everything best done at the last minute?

  26. Jane H

    Years ago, I spent the summer in Santa Fe. The friend I was staying with found a fajita marinade recipe that was associated with Mark Miller’s Coyote Cafe. It was incredible, and I have tried to replicate it for 20 years now.

    It had red wine (or red wine vinegar?), worcestershire sauce, lime juice, peppercorns, garlic…and I have no idea what else, but it was sooo good it changed my life!

    That being said, the inclusion of lime juice in your marinade takes on the role of the acidic…which we love! We grill our meat and veggies (in a grill pan) and the flavor is incredible.

    Thanks for the alternative! And if anyone knows of that Mark Miller recipe….please share!

  27. Matt

    These were excellent. They are easy to prep and go together very quickly. I love the simple marinade and technique. My wife said they were the best she’s had.
    I grew up with and have always used stainless steel cookware. I am now in mid-life and have spent the past year or so feeling cheated that I just now am learning the wonders of cast iron. You can’t make fajitas properly without it.

  28. Maili

    These fajitas are absolutely delicious. I didn’t even marinate them as long as listed (I didn’t read the recipe beforehand) so they got about a half hour, but it still turned out amazing. And so simple!

  29. AK

    The fajitas are very good from this recipe. What authentic toppings might also be served with fajitas? I like homemade HOT salsa, sour cream (or plain yogurt), and guacamole. Any other suggestions?
    Thx!!

  30. Laura

    I made these tonight and they were a hit with my whole family, ages 1-38. Even the “spice” averse kids loved the marinated chicken (I omitted the jalapeño), and my husband said this is only chicken he’s every really LOVED.

    Thank you so much! This is going in my regular rotation for sure!

  31. Alessandra

    Just to let you know. I have made this Fajitas several times and you are right, quick and great! Everyone loves them. Just one thing, and this is for everyone’s health. Canola Oil doesn’t reach a high smoking point, actually among the ones you have mentioned as high heat resistent ones, Canola has indeed the lowest smoking point. Fun enough, the highest smoking point vegetable oil is Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Smoking point for EVOO is 220°Celsius, Canola reaches 160°. Friying temperatures should be 180°, you do the calculation. Also, when Oil starts to smoke IT HAS reached that point already. This story has been perpetrated for years, A “scientific study” and I use this word loosely, in the late 60es said that Canola Oil was better than any other oil for cooking, this study was promoted by the Canola oil’s producers to defend their maket niche. Do not believe me, search it out.
    Thank you anyway for the great recipes, they are WINNER!

  32. Crystal

    I’m not a fan of cilantro I’m not sure if that makes the dish or not. I didn’t add any and I feel that the chicken tastes bland is there something else I could of used?

    • Elise

      Pickled red onions will perk it up. You can make quick pickles yourself by thinly slicing red onions and covering them in a solution of half seasoned rice vinegar and half water. Let sit for several hours or chill for up to a week.

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